This article was written in light of recent development where various communist parties and groups have been openly trying to forge an alliance with Medha Patkar led National Alliance of Peoples’ Movement, which is today India’s largest conglomeration of NGOs.
We hope that this article will generate greater debate amongst the left forces of the country.
Paid Service or Resistance: NGO and Left polity
The role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in social and political arena and what relations should the Left in general and the revolutionary Communists in particular should have with them has once again come to the fore.
The recent events particularly, in last few years has seen an increasing bonhomie between sections of Left forces and NGOs. Gone are the days of the 1980s when the ML camp had in unison termed NGOs as ruling class organ and the stooges of imperialism. Today a significant section of Left is increasingly gravitating towards entering into a sort of alliance with these organisations who now call themselves not as NGOs but People’s organisations.
James Petras a few years ago wrote an article dealing with these NGO (in this article NGO and people’s organisations will be used interchangeably as we consider both to be the same). He wrote,
“The NGOs are significant world-wide political and social actors operating in rural and urban sites of Asia, Latin America and Africa and frequently linked in dependent roles with their principle donors in Europe, the US and
Japan. It is symptomatic of the pervasiveness of the NGOs and their economic and political power over the so-called “progressive world” that there have been few systematic Left critiques of the negative impact of NGOs. In a
large part this failure is due to the success of the NGOs is displacing and destroying the organized Leftist movements and co-opting their intellectual strategists and organizational leaders.”
A major reason for the proliferation of NGOs in the 1980s and 1990s was the implementation of Structural Adjustment Program and neo-liberalism on the dictates of imperialist powers led by the US and implemented by the World Bank and IMF. The NGOs made forays into the sector where the government was forced to abdicate its role viz public health, rural development, and similar areas. Though, a cursory glance on their funding reveals their true character. Most of these organisations are directly or indirectly funded by by aid and development agencies of the imperialist countries, which in turn receive their budget directly from Western governments, financial institutions like World Bank and even the philanthrocapitalists (like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet). It does not require one to be genius to uncover the DNA strands passing through all the above mentioned bodies and organisations that are the prime source of funding. From Gates to Bank (World Bank); all are rabidly anti-Communists, propounder of Neo-liberalism and supporters of imperialism in its new manifestation. The activities of philanthropists and the World Bank are well known to go into detail.
NGOs then becomes a much required veneer to cover the antics of imperialist powers, as the former gives a false hope and helps build sense of illusion for capitalism, while the latter in grab of such propaganda can further their agenda with impunity.
A cursory look at the activity of these NGOs reveal that they in their humanistic phrase mongering are nothing more that safety valve that helps in defusing the mass anger and help it to turn into a servile benign protests. They dole out charities to the people as manna while the reality is that what they give as aid in reality are the rights of the masses. In no country where they are active do they explain to the masses the root cause of their suffering but in their million dollar publications, flyers and bulletins they churn out same stories of suffering blaming the very victim for their situation rather than exposing the perpetrators. And why will they do so? When their entire existence and edifice is built by the money they get from the imperialists. No NGO has ever come up with the statement blaming the imperialists and capitalists for the misery neither have they ever been seen accountable to the people among whom they work; their accountability lies to the donor agencies and countries.
More the onslaught of neo-liberalism, the more mushrooming of NGOs! It is well established that the NGOs have been most active in countries where either the imperialists have intervened militarily like in Afghanistan and Iraq or in places where they have indirectly intervened covertly like in African countries. According to a report published on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (another creation of imperialists to counter the growing Communist influence in Europe during the cold war),
“Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, hundreds of NGOs have begun working in Afghanistan on various projects funded by international donors. But according to the Economy Ministry, some 1,715 Afghan and 301 foreign NGOs have been liquidated for breaking the law since that time
Another scathing remark was published in German magazine Spiegel, the article says,
“The international flow of capital divides and subdivides on its way to Afghanistan like a mighty river branching out in a delta. It splits into main tributaries (the military, government-related organizations and major relief organizations), minor tributaries and rivulets. There are currently 1,327 Afghan NGOs. Added to this, Afghanistan has 303 international NGOs, also known as INGOs — including sub-sets dubbed BINGOs (business-related NGOs) and MANGOs (suspected mafia-related NGOs).
It further describes the real character of these organisation as,
“Nearly $40 billion (€30 billion) in development aid has flowed into Afghanistan since the start of the war. It goes into an industry which is also concerned with securing its own posts and functions, with the hard-to-criticize justification that it is doing good. “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa,” writes the Dutch journalist Linda Polman in her no-holds-barred exposé “The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?” which has just been published in the US.”
Another important area where these organisations have been vigorously active are places where the resistance movement and those particularly led by the Left forces are strong. They were active in Indonesia, Thailand and Peru in the seventies; Nicaragua, Chile,Philippines in the 80s; El Salvador, Guatemala, Korea in the 90s. The NGOers were essentially there to “put out the fires.” Under the guise of constructive projects they argued against engaging in ideological movements thus effectively using foreign funds to recruit local leaders, send them to overseas conferences to give testimonials, while effectively encouraging local groups to adapt to the reality of neo-liberalism.
The above is just tip of an iceberg to show what the real politics of NGOs are. Unfortunately instead of disappearing these NGOs are growing and like amoeba is reproducing at frantic rate. Now let’s turn our attention to the role of NGOs in India– the main topic of our discussion.
Today exists in India approximately 3.3 million NGOs that is one NGO for less than 400 people, active in almost the entire country and covering among them the entire gamut of public administration.
These NGOs have been active in several fields, notably in rural development, skill development, education, and public health, apart from leading some of the anti-dam and anti-SEZ movement, tribal issues. For instance several NGOs are active in anti-globalisation activity, they have been churning reams of papers criticising globalisation and its consequences, but what have they come up as solution is not replacement of globalisation and forces of capital, but globalisation with human face. In other words the exploitation of capitalists and the imperialists would continue but not as it is being done today, it would be replaced with “human face” wherein the corporations would dole out few thousands of rupees (though in reality most of these amounts are never released and are nothing more than a PR activity) for activities like drinking water, sanitation and education, at the same time extracting massive surplus value. These corporations in the name of corporate responsibility ensure massive public exercise which have no or miniscule impact on the lives of the poor and needy. Such thinking of globalisation with human face is nothing more but publicity stunt. People like Medha Patkar, Arvind Kejriwal (before his foray into parliamentary politics) Rajendar Singh etc. have been champion of this humanist capitalism. They never utter a single word against the corporate sector whether Indian or foreign and machinations of imperialists, while at the same time they try to paint all the people involved in politics as corrupt, debauch and power hungry .One may remember that these so called activists have been unashamedly championed for capitalists and have been stooges of imperialism.
“This process is fuelled by changing foreign policy positions, along with the outputs of think-tanks and certain key individuals—often fuelled by the same donors that fund NGOs.… The roles civil society and NGOs are expected to play have shifted as the dominant paradigms have moved successively from a focus on the state, as the key to economic development, to markets, to an understanding of market failures. This has been accompanied by an increased emphasis on other development players to complement the market, and most recently to monitor the ‘enabling state’, which (the argument now goes) needs to drive development but which has to be regulated; this job has been allocated to ‘civil society’ – a confused and ahistorical term deployed to promote this development model.” 
Let’s look at the modus operandi of these ‘activists’, they go to the area where the Left have been waging struggles, and take up those issues which left have been mobilising people. Armed with media and stashed with cash these activists in guise of helping the people take up such issues like rehabilitation, displacement with compensation, higher compensation to brunt the edges of class struggle. Let us quote in detail the stance of Medha Patkar in the anti-SEZ struggle in Maharashtra against Ambani.
When the peasants were struggling to scrap the SEZ, Patkar along with others held a public meeting in July-August 2006, in Pen. And she, as usual, raised the issue of rehabilitation, and got a lot of media attention as has been the case with these NGOs and their leaders.
Her argument was that if for the Narmada dam evacuees, till date the rehabilitation has not happened then how could it be done by this SEZ which is a private project? So, how do we ensure that proper rehabilitation would happen in this case. But we opposed this stand and said that there is no question of giving land so the question of rehabilitation did not arise. We gave our first slogan ‘Nahi-Nahin Kadachi Nahin; Amcha Jameenee Denaar Nahin’ (No, no never, we would not give away our land). And the second slogan that we gave was ‘Shetkaryaneha Ekjuticha Vijay Aso!’ Long Live Peasant Unity!
The NGO forces had formed a separate 24-Gaon Bachoo Samiti (Save 24 villages committee). They had a ready-made objection printed that they asked the farmers of this area to deposit and as they were all having the same objections their entire case was heard in one go. As a result Reliance has been able to get land in this area. In another anti-SEZ struggle which was headed by Medha Patkar and other NGO forces in Chakan, they only raised the issue of rehabilitation and not of resistance to the SEZ. As a result today the struggle has almost fizzled out. (Reported in Revolutionary Democracy).
These coteries of people’s organisation declare they are apolitical and term all the political activity as selfish and power hungry, in other words their entire effort is the blunt the political movements, take away the revolutionary sheen from struggle and convert every struggle to that of formalism and turn them to mere bargain strategy. One can quote n number of examples to substantiate the above. Latest being the so-called protest of Anna Hazare for Jan Lokpal where the entire debate was centred around a mere dubious janlokpal bill and convincingly glossing over the real cause of corruption that is the capitalist machinations and the onslaught of neo-liberalism. Just to reiterate this protest by Hazare was given an all out support by the likes of Medha Patkar, Rajender Singh (initially), Sanjay Singh to name a few.
Medha Patkar made two trips to Washington in 1987 and 1989. Lori Udall from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in Washington was inspired by Patkar to take the lead role in raising the NBA’s concerns with the World Bank. Udall also helped build a network of committed and informed activists in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia who become known as the Narmada Action Committee. Recently there was email conversation with US authority where she
Ford Foundation in India: Imperialism in guise of charity
The Ford Foundation (FF) was set up in 1936 by Ford, with an intention to get exemption from tax, till 1950 its activities remained confined to the US state of Michigan, but in 1950 the US government with its intention to curb the growing Communist menace converted FF into a international foundation.
It is well known fact that CIA is actively behind the FF and its working, to the extend that today FF is considered one of the several front organisation of CIA.
James Petras’ wrote “[CIA-FF relations] was a deliberate, conscious joint effort to strengthen US imperial cultural hegemony and to undermine left-wing political and cultural influence.” Frances Stonor Saunders, in a recent work on the period, states that “At times it seemed as if the Ford Foundation was simply an extension of government in the area of international cultural propaganda. The Foundation had a record of close involvement in covert actions in Europe, working closely with Marshall Plan and CIA officials on specific projects.”
Since 1970 the FF has concentrated its activity in providing fund to NGOs and individuals under what is called asses and community building and development. Several of top Indian social activists have benefited from such donations to help the poor and develop the country.
Over the period 1952-2002, FF New Delhi office, the first and oldest of FF’s 13 overseas offices, has distributed $450 million in grants. At a press conference to mark the fiftieth anniversary of FF in India, the foundation’s India representative said that it was launching a new Rs 220 crore ($45 million) funding programme — twice the usual annual allocation — and committing substantial funds to disadvantaged groups such as adivasis, dalits and women. “Asked if the shift in focus [from FF’s traditional activities in rural development] was prompted by the inequalities caused by the Indian government’s economic policies of globalisation and liberalisation, he said there was no question of getting away from globalisation but it had brought some concern also. The projects would, therefore, act as a corrective measure to offset the adverse impact of uncontrolled market forces”
In 1971 it distributed funds in tune of 104 million dollars to various people and organisations. Till 1970 the gandhian groups and people were the main recipient. The tentacles of FF is so wide that even several people from ML background were co-opted into accepting its funds. In the 1980s there was even division in one of the CPI-ML group on accepting funds from US agency.
FF has been instrumental in coaxing and intervening in the internal policy making of the governments, apart from this one of its avowed purpose is to ensure that the struggle remains in confined to confirmationist stand and does not become too political to challenge the establishment.
Today when US and global imperialism is on military political offensive particularly in Indian neighbourhood, in its hubris are its allies the foundation like FF, Carneigie and scores of others whose sole purpose is to fund organisations, intellectuals and social activists who can act as its bard they are the new missionaries who have percolated to all movements to further the interests of imperial power and turn the resistance from path of social change to collaboration with the ruling class.
The curious case of Indian Communist ‘Revolutionaries’
The utterly fragmented Indian communist camp which till few years back was against having any sort of understanding with the NGOs has suddenly discovered in them an ally whom they can use for advancing their politics. So again like the politics of CPI-M and CPI, who thought of furthering their influence on the props of Lalus and Mulayams, today we have a new type of tailism in offing — that of bonhomie with NGOs. The CPI-ML Liberation, SUCI(C), CPI-ML (Class Struggle) and hosts of other ML groups have initiated discussion with Medha Patkar led NGO clique the National Alliance of People’s Movement. Can someone ask these comrades what they want to achieve by this alliance which in our view is nothing but a brazen collaboration with a force that is rabid anti-revolution and a puppet of imperialism.
Let’s look at some of the comments that the members of such parties have been making, and we assume they confirm to their party line.
The SUCI(C) claims that they will use Medha to get propaganda, then in that case comrade either you have lost the confidence of being a revolutionary party capable of leading a mass movement or you are after cheap publicity. Will aligning with NDA and Modi not give you more publicity and even number of seats in state assemblies and parliament?
When SUCI (C) aligned with Mamata what did they achieve apart from that one seat in parliament that also they lost this time! What was their contribution to Nandigram and Singur movement that they have been propagating as something led and created by them? The outcome of Nandigram and Singur was ascending of Mamata Banerjee to the throne of Kolkata, yes apart from that these two movement that had potential to turn the tide of Indian polity was wasted and if SUCI(C) as it claims to be the initiator of these protest owes a self-criticism of its action. What a great Marxist politics is this to first go into the lap of Mamata and then when thrown by her, boisterously proclaim that it was they who spurned her offer. It can never be called as tactics comrades, but can only be termed as requiem of your politics. The last few years have exposed your revisionist and opportunist politics that you were able to conceal behind revolutionary phrase mongering and high sounding jargons. But you can never remain Marxist and opportunist at the same time. SUCI(C) since time of its foundation has always had revisionist strands in it, though due to the then prevailing historical condition it was not revealed. Now this party has been completely exposed and the day is not far off when it will become another junior partner to some bourgeoisie party’s camp. Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) has in Kerala shown SUCI(C) what lies for parties like these.
Increasingly another agenda that comes to the fore with these parties is the fear of isolation. These organisations dread the situation when they are isolated and to get out of this they can go to any extend. But what does history of communist movement teaches us? During his confrontation with Bakunin and Anarchist in the first international, Marx took a principled stand without batting an eyelid, or fear of isolation. Why? Simply because of firm conviction of his stand. There were times when Marx and Engels were all alone and isolated, but they never allied with anti-proletariat forces. Once should just go thru the various works of Marx and Engels and their correspondence.
Same stand was taken by Lenin. In 1903 during the Second congress Of the Russian Social-Democratic Party, Lenin found himself isolated on the first clause of the rule and on the new structure of the editorial board of “Iskra”. At that time Martov, Plekhnov, Tortsky and whole lot of Russian Social Democrats allied against Lenin’s formulation. Did Lenin adopt the stand what our Indian communists are doing today? Comrades of SUCI(C), CPI-ML (Liberation) and other ML groups should once again turn the pages of history and brush their understanding.
But years of tailism and opportunistic politics is not easy to brush aside.
 James Petras, NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism, http://www.neue-einheit.com/english/ngos.htm, accessed 10-08-2014
 Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, Afghanistan Closes Hundreds Of NGOs, http://www.rferl.org/content/afghanistan_shuts_down_hundreds_of_ngos/24457124.html, accessed on 10-08-2014
 Walter Mayr, Exotic Birds in a Cage: Criticism Grows of Afghanistan’s Bloated NGO Industry, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/exotic-birds-in-a-cage-criticism-grows-of-afghanistan-s-bloated-ngo-industry-a-718656-2.html, accessed 10-08-2014
 James Petras ibid (1)
 “First Official Estimate: An NGO for every 400 people in India”, The Indian Express, July 7, 2010
 Tina Wallace, “NGO Dilemmas: Trojan Horses for Global Neoliberalism?”, The Socialist Register 2004
 For details see RUPE’s website Ford Foundation — A Case Study of the Aims of Foreign Funding, http://www.rupe-india.org/35/app1.htm accessed 10-08-2014
5 thoughts on “Paid Service or Resistance: NGO and Left politics”
Our Party – CPI(ML)(you mention” class struggle'” never succembed to any kind of NGO politics. We have a firm opinion on NGO organizations. Our Party letter to members is saying ” Today, several NGO’s are at work to rally the people with them in the name of social justice, human rights, civil liberties, democratic rights, environmental protections and such other several projects. Some sections of people, who are looking for someone who may come to their aid in solving their problems, are getting attracted by them in the beginning. we can understand the situation of common people. But, some individuals, forces and even organizations who are professing Marxism – Leninism – Mao thought are being attracted by them and are going into their fold in a considerable number. This is a trend to be taken note of. Some who are connected with these Voluntary Organizations, are forming the issue based united action fora. They are maintaining maximum relations with some CR organizations. We must act with utmost caution in our interaction with them.” This is our Party’s approach to NGOs. Robi Arayakkandy.
Dear comrade Robi,
What you have mentioned and what has been stand of CPI(ML) Class Struggle in Bihar is different. Comrade Arvind Sinha himself is involved in forging alliance with NAPM, though in “individual” capacity…
Will wait for your response and clarification
Even this paragraph, cited by com. Robi from his party letter, doesn’t say clearly and categorically that We, as a normal rule, must not form alliance with NGOs. It only says that “this is a trend to be taken note of” or that “We must act with utmost caution in our interaction with them.”
The whole paragraph says – ”Today, several NGO’s are at work to rally the people with them in the name of social justice, human rights, civil liberties, democratic rights, environmental protections and such other several projects. Some sections of people, who are looking for someone who may come to their aid in solving their problems, are getting attracted by them in the beginning. we can understand the situation of common people. But, some individuals, forces and even organizations who are professing Marxism – Leninism – Mao thought are being attracted by them and are going into their fold in a considerable number. This is a trend to be taken note of. Some who are connected with these Voluntary Organizations, are forming the issue based united action fora. They are maintaining maximum relations with some CR organizations. We must act with utmost caution in our interaction with them.”
The article has not been fully posted. The paragraph above section “Ford Foundation in India: Imperialism in guise of charity” has not been fully posted. Could you please publish the full article? Could you also please post more articles under the category of people like Medha Patkar, Harsh Mander etc so to fully understand their ideology?
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Thanks for pointing out the mistake. It has been 6 years since this article was posted, and we are not sure that we have the original paper with us. 😢
We would certainly search for it, and if successful shall upadate the para.